Allow me to begin by stating that Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona, is undoubtedly one of the great natural wonders of the world. I’ve wanted to go since I first became aware of it by following various landscape photographers, about a decade ago. Antelope Canyon may be old news now, but hey! I’m older too! I visited some aunties of mine in Williams, Arizona in 2013 and I tried to get one of them to take me to Page, but they weren’t into it, and I didn’t have a car on that trip. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Williams, which is where I was, near the south rim of The Grand Canyon, to Page, which is very close to the border with Utah.
Also, I didn’t realize it then, as some people may not know now, that if you want to visit Antelope Canyon, it’s rarely as easy as just walking in, plunking your money down on the counter, and taking the tour. You might, MIGHT! be able to do this if you’re traveling alone, but probably not if there is more than one person in your party. As with so many beautiful places, Antelope Canyon has a reservation system now, and you book and pay online. I personally booked my tour about 6 months in advance, because I knew I wanted to go in June, when the sun is directly overhead, in hopes of getting some light rays in the picture. June is also high season for tourism in general since school has just let out and people are taking their summer road trip vacations. Booking months in advance allowed me to change my tour time on Lower Antelope too, when I realized I probably wasn’t going to be able to do both in one day. There just wasn’t enough time between the tours I had scheduled to make it from one canyon to the other in time, so I was able to change it when I figured this out. In the end, I did Upper Antelope on Friday, and Lower Antelope on Saturday.
From what I can tell, there are three companies who are licensed to run tours through the canyons. Of the three I know of; the two main companies are Dixie’s and Ken’s. These are both Navajo owned companies. In fact, I learned that Ken and Dixie are siblings! From what I have learned, as of this writing, there is no way to visit either Upper or Lower Antelope Canyons without going through a commercial tour company that is licensed to operate within the bounds of The Navajo Nation, where the canyons are located.
The Canyons were closed for almost a year and a half during the Covid pandemic. They closed them down entirely to tours because the virus was hitting the Navajo Nation particularly hard. In fact, during the pandemic, they lost about 10% of their entire tribe to Covid. This was a major, heartbreaking catastrophe. As of this writing, anywhere you go in the Navajo Nation, requires wearing a mask. It is required to wear a mask while riding in the van from downtown Page to Upper Antelope Canyon, and you must wear one during the entire time you are on the tour and riding back from the tour. No exceptions! Anyone who removes their mask will be escorted out. If you’re on the bus, you may have to exit via “tuck and roll.” This is where they slow down to a roll and push you out. Just kidding, but they’re not kidding about wearing a mask.
So, once they reopened after the pandemic, they decided not to continue doing tours specifically for photographers. Those beautiful photos you see of falling sand through light rays are not happening now. You may see some light rays (I saw one during my tour of Upper Antelope), but they don’t set them up for you and pour the sand. These photographic tours lasted a bit longer, usually about 2 hours, and were geared specifically for photographers. You couldn’t take one of these tours if all you brought with you was your iPhone camera. These tours were set up for people with dslr’s on tripods. With this kind of setup, you can use longer shutter speeds and lower ISO. When I began my search online for a similar tour last winter, I discovered they weren’t doing them anymore. You can bring your dslr, but no tripods are allowed inside the Upper Antelope Canyon.
The tour guides are still very helpful and will point out good locations to shoot a picture and what the names of the various rock formations are inside the canyon. They give you a couple of minutes to shoot the scene. My experience in Upper Antelope was that most of my fellow tourists were more interested in getting pictures of themselves and their traveling companions inside the canyon. A fair amount of time is spent by the tour guides taking these photos of everyone in the group. I didn’t have my picture taken inside the canyon. Not my thing. I prefer being on the back end of the camera these days.
I overheard the tour guide telling another tourist that although they used to do photographic tours, they quit doing it because it got to where it really wasn’t about the canyon anymore. I get this. Photographers can be very competitive. I will also say that some photographers can be, shall we say, demanding. They’re in it for the money, after all. Each one is trying to outdo the other one to get the most perfect shot. Once Ian Plant sold his Antelope Canyon shot for a million bucks though, I would say the pinnacle of this canyon has been reached. Not only is it amazing that he did that, but it’s also a bit of a disincentive for others who come after. Are you going to sell yours for $2 million? $2.5 million? 5 million? Or, are you just going to enjoy them yourself and maybe post them on your blog, as I do?
I guess anything is possible and maybe the sky’s the limit. That little sliver of sky you see directly above your head in the canyon is your lottery ticket. As for me, I have no delusions of grandeur, I just wanted to be there and experience the place in real time. I didn’t spend time on manual camera settings or anything like that. For one thing, it’s difficult to get a photo like some of the ones you may have seen before, the long exposures with the falling sand, because of the sheer number of people in the canyon at all times. Plus, they keep you moving. You must aim upwards just to keep the ball caps and outreached hands holding cell phones out of your frame. I’m sure some of those people got pictures using their cell phones easily as good as any I took, but I’m glad I have the photos now for my own memories of the place. I have no regrets. I would do it again by maybe reversing the times of each tour, or going during a different time of year just to see how the light reflects off the canyon walls.
At the time I booked my tour, I was unable to find a tour company that still offered photographic tours of the Upper Antelope Canyon, but I have since located one that I think might still be doing it. The cost is only slightly higher than the regular tour, and they do allow dslr’s and tripods I’m told, although I didn’t see anything about that on their website, specifically. Be sure and do your due diligence before booking so you know what you’re getting for your money and what to expect. Their tours take a little bit longer and they do allow more time for you to get the shot. They help with camera settings. I believe they are simply called Antelope Canyon Tours. As of this writing, they offer a 1.5-hour photographic tour of Upper Antelope Canyon for $150.00. So, I would say, shop around some to see what company will work best for you and what you want to do. If you get that million-dollar shot, consider it a bonus.
And don’t forget to visit Glen Canyon Dam while you’re in the area. A visit to the dam is free and open to the public. It’s managed by the National Park Service.